Day 2 at NTEN 2011: People Are at the Center of Technology

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By: Raji Mohanam, Knowledge Management Specialist, MHTF

With 2,000 people trying to access a limited Hilton wi-fi service, it was a struggle to get and then keep a connection on Day 2 at NTEN 2011. It severely undermined our ability to live-tweet during sessions. Apologies! However, this made clear that one thing techie folks understand is the inherent fragility of technology and that for all its amazing potential, it’s still just a tool. Sometimes tools break. In those moments, we are left with the human capacity to adapt. No technology compares to human genious….and we got to see plenty of that  today.

I was very impressed with Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Global Community Affairs at Microsoft. He moderated a session on innovation and technology where he outlined how our world view is changing because of technology. He said there were three important shifts happening around the world, even at the village-level:

1. Technology is now ubiquitous, affordable, accessible and relevant

2. Economics of technology is changing in that the developed markets no longer drive growth, it’s the developing world that is driving growth

3. People are at the center of technology and  knowledge creation; they are no longer on the periphery as passive observers of technology.

I think his third point is especially apparent in the development sector. Innovation happens when people apply and adapt technologies to address individual and local problems. Innovation is not a given just because a new technology is introduced. It happens because people take technology into their own hands to change their lives and their destinies. We can see many examples of this ‘customization’ of technology all over the world.  ThemPesa program uses mobile phones to address local banking needs in Kenya. Local telemedicine strategies are revolutionizing the way problems are solved in healtchare in India. Egyptians used social media to organize protests that eventually brought down a dictator.  And there are many less-known examples.

As a result of this rapidly changing global landscape, NGOs and donors no longer view women, men, and families living in resource-poor countries as ‘victims’ of poverty but as capable agents of change. This global view has occurred to a large extent because of the way human beings  are using technology to meet their own needs, and not because of technology itself.

The paradigm is shifting…..and it’s exciting to be part of it!